GAO Reports On Arms Trafficking In Mexico

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report this week entitled, "Firearms Trafficking: U.S. Efforts to Combat Arms Trafficking to Mexico Face Planning and Coordination Challenges."

Among other things, the report asserts that Mexican officials consider illicit firearms the number one crime problem affecting their country's security; that about 87 percent of firearms seized in Mexico and traced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE) in the last five years originated in the United States; and that these firearms are increasingly more powerful and lethal, including "high-caliber and high-powered" AK-47 and AR-15 type semi-automatic rifles. The report further contends that the country's law enforcement agencies are insufficiently organized, and that Mexico has a history of corruption at the federal, state and local levels.

With regard to the "87 percent" statistic, the report's figures make clear that BATFE only traces a fraction of the guns seized. Those firearms are not selected randomly, but are likely selected because they are the guns most likely to have come from the U.S. Trace data reveals nothing about the large number of guns that are not traced.

The report also states "According to U.S. and Mexican government officials, these firearms have been increasingly more powerful and lethal in recent years. For example, many of these firearms are high-caliber and high-powered, such as AK and AR-15 type semiautomatic rifles." The report, however, states that about 25 percent of firearms traced were of that type, which works out to only eight percent of all firearms seized. Also, the report does not indicate what percentage of murders is committed with various types of firearms, but it does note, "The majority of the casualties have been individuals involved in the drug trade in some way."

The report further states that, "The U.S. government faces several significant challenges in combating illicit sales of firearms in the United States and stemming their flow into Mexico." These include "restrictions on collecting and reporting information on firearms purchases, a lack of required background checks for private firearms sales, and limitations on reporting requirements for multiple sales" and even the fact that the U.S. government is prohibited by law from maintaining a national registry of firearms.

But as we know, the gun control measures indicated would not be effective against purchasers who can pass instant background checks. As the report noted, "Firearms [purchases] at gun shops and pawn shops for trafficking to Mexico are usually made by 'straw purchasers,' according to law enforcement officials. These straw purchasers are individuals with clean records who can be expected to pass the required background check and who are paid by drug cartel representatives or middlemen to purchase certain guns from gun shops."

Finally, the report noted that, "Another significant challenge facing U.S. efforts to assist Mexico is corruption among some Mexican government entities. Government officials acknowledge fully implementing these reforms will take considerable time, and may take years to affect comprehensive change." And, "According to Mexican government officials, corruption pervades all levels of Mexican law enforcement -- federal, state, and local. For example, some high ranking members of federal law enforcement have been implicated in corruption investigations, and some high publicity kidnapping and murder cases have involved corrupt federal law enforcement officials."

Obviously, Mexico has a huge problem with rampant corruption that clearly cannot be blamed on the U.S. At the same time, Mexico has extremely prohibitive gun laws, yet has far worse crime than the U.S.

More evidence of what is truly happening in Mexico was brought out in a series of hearings held earlier this year. During those hearings, three representatives of U.S. law enforcement, one each from BATFE, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), made it clear that the increase in violence in Mexico is being misinterpreted by the media and politicians. They testified that the increase in violence is a direct result of the actions taken by Mexican President Felipe Calderon to take on the cartels. The cartels, they testified, are being pressured more than ever before and are fighting back in desperation, resulting in casualties. (If you wish to view the hearings, please use the following links: House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere: "Guns, Drugs and Violence: The Merida Initiative and the Challenge in Mexico", and Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs: "Law Enforcement Responses to Mexican Drug Cartels")

For American gun owners, the battle will be to make sure that politicians who see an opportunity to advance their gun ban agenda do not use Mexico as an excuse to sacrifice our Second Amendment rights.

Copyright 2009, National Rifle Association of America, Institute for Legislative Action. This may be reproduced. It may not be reproduced for commercial purposes.

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